One thing led to another, this afternoon, in the Marriott Denver-Tech-Center hotel lobby. A baking hot afternoon. A war between suburban hotel shuttle services. I was left waiting for about 45 minutes to get from the conference hotel (on the edge of a 12 lane motorway), to the hotel I was staying at (in the middle of nowhere). A hell hole industrial wasteland of nowhere. I ain’t joking.
I hung out in the lobby which was the size of a small football pitch. Chatting to the ‘bell/concierge’ person every now and again. She was working her socks off trying to negotiate ways out of the hotel for a constant stream of large and small groups of people who wanted to go somewhere.
I watched delegates from the Vision of the American West Bonsai Convention carefully wheel their trees away on luggage trollies, and vaguely regretted not spending more time at their exhibition. Various delegates from the disability conference I was attending, milled around, on foot, in chairs, on scooters, chatting, signing, discussing where to eat that evening. There was a lively, end of the day conference buzz. I met a delegate from Witney who had emailed me months ago. Funny old world and all that.
Three young men came through the revolving doors dressed in US naval uniform. They visibly responded, seeing a small group of conference delegates standing by the entrance. One of them stopped, momentarily and stared. He was given a brief hand squeeze on the shoulder by his colleague. There were the tiniest of half grins, a small cough, then faces were rearranged into studied disinterest.
All in the Marriott lobby. On a baking hot afternoon. That’s all.
A brand new series of practical tips for the incompetent traveller, starting with the USA.
1. Do your research. Make sure you thoroughly read about where you are going and choose the hotel accordingly. Be aware that names like ‘Denver Tech-Center’ may not refer to the building in which your conference is being held, but an area of about 5km square. Remember that careless preparation can leave you staying in a hotel 15 km from the town centre with no means of transport and a lot of dual carriageways to negotiate.
2. Check everything at least ten times; date and time of flight, airport of departure and valid passport.
3. Apply for your ESTA visa waiver as soon as you can. Failure to do this may result in some very hairy, horror filled moments, especially if you are somewhere like a retreat the day before you fly with very patchy internet access.
Note: If the above scenario does happen to you, make sure you have a cool and calm mate handy, with internet access and savvy searching skills, to iron out all those creases, provide the relevant information and get you back on your way to the States.*
4.Still at home, make sure you empty your hand luggage bag/rucksack fully before packing it with the stuff you are taking on board.
Note: If you fail to do the above and realise, once you are through to the departure lounge, you have something like, for example, a big bottle of shampoo in your bag from your last weekend away, don’t panic as you could have bought it in Boots in the terminal.
5. If you have a connecting flight once in the USA, you will need to pack any bottles (from your hand luggage or bought in duty free) in your luggage for the hold. You will collect this luggage on the way through security.
Note: If you’ve forgotten about that (for example) silly shampoo bottle in your hand luggage, and have already handed your hold luggage back to some guy, you will need to dump the bottle in the nearest bin at this point.
6. At this point, recheck your hand luggage to make sure no other nasties got through accidently before you reach the US security check. For example, the matching conditioner to the shampoo in a different pocket of your rucksack. If you don’t, security will.
That’s it for Travel Tips 1. Just remember, a good traveller is a prepared traveller.
* Indebted to Ulla for this one.